Wednesday, more than 220 agriculture, wildlife, and conservation organizations from across the country sent a letter urging the U.S. House and Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittees to protect farm bill conservation funding in FY 2018.
The groups, which included the National Association of Conservation Districts, the National Wildlife Federation, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, called upon Congress to respect the funding decisions made by the Agriculture Committees during the rigorous 2014 Farm Bill process by rejecting any funding cuts to farm bill conservation programs through the appropriations process.
The groups from or working in Pennsylvania include the American Water Works Association, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, PA Association for Sustainable Agriculture, PA Farmers Union, Nature Abounds, National Wildlife Federation, the Ruffed Grouse Society, The Conservation Fund, The Nature Conservancy-PA, Trout Unlimited and more.
The letter underscores the importance of leaving funding intact for key farm bill conservation programs, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), and the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP).
"These programs provide the tools and resources that independent family farmers and ranchers need to effectively conserve water, protect and enhance soil, and maintain productive and profitable operations," said Greg Fogel, NSAC Policy Director. "In years past, appropriators have used backdoor tactics to cut mandatory funding from critical conservation programs, resulting in thousands of eligible producers being turned away by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). At a time when American producers are already facing extreme economic hardship, it is more critical than ever that they have access to financial and technical assistance programs that can help them to become more resilient and profitable in the long-term."
The 2014 Farm Bill cut $6 billion from farm bill conservation programs. As congressional appropriators work to determine food and agriculture program funding for FY 2018 – the same year that the farm bill is slated to be reauthorized – they should consider that any cuts made to mandatory conservation spending in FY 2018 will carry over into the baseline for the next farm bill, impacting producers, as well as our shared natural resources for years to come.
"Farm bill conservation programs are highly effective, wildly popular, and completely voluntary – which is why they enjoy strong bipartisan support," said Collin O’Mara, President and Chief Executive Officer of NWF. "These programs provide farmers, ranchers, and forest stewards with tools to restore important wildlife habitat across the country and help proactively recover at-risk wildlife populations before they need regulatory protections under the Endangered Species Act. That’s why more than 220 groups, including many affiliates of the National Wildlife Federation, are joining forces to ask Congress to stand firm and defend these programs from proposed draconian cuts that will harm both America’s outdoor heritage and America’s agriculture sector."
In their letter, the 220+ organizations also responded to the President’s recently released “skinny budget,” and urged appropriators to reject any proposed cuts to conservation technical assistance.
"Today more than 914 million acres – just over 40 percent of our country – is in agricultural production. The need for conservation across our country is greater than ever," NACD President Brent Van Dyke said. "We need to ensure resources are available to help landowners put conservation on the ground. Through Conservation Technical Assistance, and programs like it, conservation districts and NRCS provide American producers the technical know-how they need to sustainably grow our nation's food, fuel, and fiber in an era of unprecedented global demand. Combined, delivery of conservation assistance has tremendous economic impact and provides over 60,000 jobs in communities across the country."
The wide range of organizations signed on to the letter speaks to how broadly further cuts to conservation programs and technical assistance would be felt across the country.
"Cutting investments in farm bill conservation programs is tantamount to turning your back on rural American landowners and sportsmen," said Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. "There is record demand from agricultural producers for the technical assistance and financial certainty of these critical programs, and there are also hundreds of rural counties that are economically dependent on outdoor recreation, including hunting and fishing, that gets a boost from better habitat and clean water on private lands. Sportsmen and women are urging Congress to provide strong funding for farm bill conservation programs, because we understand that this helps landowners turn limited federal dollars into significant conservation outcomes, besides the many other benefits for family farms, Main Street businesses, and those of us who love to hunt and fish."
NACD, NSAC, NWF, and TRCP stand united with the more than 220 co-signed organizations in urging Appropriators to protect critical conservation programs and technical assistance in FY 2018.A copy of the letter is available online.